While simmering tension and dread is there right from the beginning in Bennett Miller’s true tale “Foxcatcher”, the resounding impact from the film remains its stillness. Many scenes are shrouded in quiet, almost hushed conversations, all of which makes the emotional explosion towards the end that much more shocking. Tracking the doomed relationship between wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Canning Tatum and Mark Ruffalol) and wealthy Olympic supporter John E. DuPont (Steve Carell), “Foxcatcher” is a dense study in repressed emotions from all sides. While Carell undergoes the most physically transformative of the roles (and he is really, really good), the best acting comes from Tatum and Ruffalo. With statures like apes and lacking the ability to fully express their sentiments outside of casual positive reinforcement or the comfort of each other’s body in practice, “Foxcatcher” soon becomes a pointed attack on the ‘haves’ versus the ‘havenots’. This widening gulf eventually swallows everyone and director Miller orchestrates the quiet apocalypse with deft precision.
“Citizenfour”, directed by Laura Poitras, is a documentary of prescient timing. Not only was Poitras in the right place and time to document and record whistleblower Edward Snowden’s journey through the media minefield, but “Citizenfour” fits in snuggly with our current preoccupation of governmental distrust. I’m not saying it’s a perfect film, but I can’t imagine a more timely release for a real life paranoid expose like it. Receiving cryptic emails from Snowden almost eight months before coming out with his classified NSA documents concerning the level of privacy piracy by the government, Poitras builds her film around the hotel room conversations she and Snowden (and journalist Glenn Greenwald) recorded. These conversations- in which justification, anxiety and some doubt creep into Snowden- establish the beating pulse of the film. Less interesting are the bits of context mixed around the interviews, namely hearings on privacy invasion and talking head media conferences. Included, I’m sure, to educate the general viewer on the rampant encroachment of industry upon personal privacy like a visual Wikipedia, I felt them a bit redundant and ultimately a remedial effect for the film.
Back in the director-actor seat again, Tommy Lee Jones tackles the western with “The Homesman”, a genre that yielded strong results a few years ago with his “The Three Burial Of Melquidas Estrada”. Where that film was lean, savage and complex, “The Homesman” struggles to find and maintain a tone from the very beginning. Hilary Swank stars as Marry Cuddy, a woman alone in the Nebraska territory who takes on the mission of transporting three mentally unstable women to Iowa. Drifter and general malcontent Jones comes into the picture when Swank saves him from his impending death and charges him with helping her on the journey. The imbalance between the very dark, dream-like existence of the three crazy women and Swank and Jones’ almost cartoonish relationship continually makes “The Homesman” a puzzling effort. Like a character out of a Peckinpah western, Jones embodies his George Briggs as heartless, misanthropic and a bit cowardly, yet we’re expected to see the ultimate good in him as the credits roll. Equally schizophrenic is Swank’s Marry Cuddy… fiercely independent in the way she steps up into the role of woman’s savior but secretly yearning for nothing more than the modest subjugation of marriage. Sketching characters with these broad strokes of emotional complexity is never a bad thing, but “The Homesman” lacks any real depth in its exploration, especially in a third act twist that feels forced in its corn field journey of martyrdom.